Imagine getting from one side of McKinney to another in 15 minutes or less. Imagine avoiding major thoroughfares and nightmarish intersections like 380 and U.S. 75. Imagine more bike lanes and pedestrian walkways around town. The secret? Eliminating the need for residents to drive on collector roads and replacing four-way stops and traffic lights with roundabouts.
City leaders in Carmel, Ind. had the vision and foresight in the mid 1990s to think differently about road construction and traffic flow in a growing suburban area similar to North Texas. According to James Brainard, Carmel’s Mayor, “What may seem like a model of efficiency — a single thoroughfare linking the various destinations of suburban life – turns out to be anything but efficient; when traffic gets funneled through a single artery, it quickly becomes clogged as development extends further out.”
With more roundabouts than any other city in the country (80), Carmel received the No 1 ranking in CNN/Money Magazine’s best places to live list but more importantly, Carmel is safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians; has improved cost savings for taxpayers and is cleaner for the environment.
Roundabouts are not the same as traffic circles that dot cities along the east coast. From this writer’s perspective, traffic circles are downright scary and dangerous (ask me about the time two ambulances were coming straight for me in a DC traffic circle). Roundabouts are smooth and safe. Traffic circles are usually very large with motorists approaching at high speeds whereas roundabouts are much smaller and force drivers to slow down even if they don’t need to stop.
Much of McKinney is yet to be built out … and if our Deputy Assistant City Manager Rob Daake has his way, roundabouts just might be the ticket to easing McKinney’s traffic nightmares. Daake, who is also interim director of engineering, provided the following answers to our questions about roundabouts in McKinney:
1. What kind of experience do you have with roundabouts, either personally or professionally?
Both myself and several of our key staff are experienced in planning, designing, and constructing roundabouts. The City has been involved with both public and private projects over the past several years that have implemented roundabouts.
2. Are you an advocate for roundabouts in general and/or in McKinney? Why?
Yes, we advocate for the use of roundabouts in general and in McKinney. When we are designing projects within the City, we are always looking for the best design possible for a given situation. Roundabouts are one of many tools available for intersection design but they don’t work in every location. Staff sees the potential for using them under the right circumstances.
Staff has recommended the installation of several roundabouts within some of the newer subdivisions in McKinney to help with slowing vehicles in our residential neighborhoods. One subdivision where several roundabouts have already been constructed is Stone Hollow, near the intersection of Alma Road and Silverado Trail.
There has been a great deal of research conducted on the safety of roundabouts in the United States. These studies have shown that roundabouts can be safer than traditional stop sign or signal controlled intersections. They create slower speeds, have fewer conflict points for pedestrians and motorists, and reduce collision angles compared to stop sign or traffic signal control. A national study of intersections converted to modern roundabouts had the following significant findings:
- A reduction in collisions of all types of 40 percent.
- A reduction in injury collisions of 75 percent.
- A reduction in fatal and incapacitating collisions of about 90 percent.
Another benefit of roundabouts is that they can reduce delay and improve traffic flow by removing the stop condition. Roundabouts promote continuous flow through the intersection. Traffic is not required to stop, only yield, when there is conflicting traffic.
Lastly, roundabouts enhance aesthetics and provide an area within the right-of-way for beautification. These treatments can be used to create a landmark or to help separate two different area types such as commercial and residential land uses.
3. Are there any future plans to transfer any intersections in McKinney into roundabouts like Frisco is doing?
The City is planning on constructing a roundabout at the intersection of Greenville Road and Louisiana Street. This is part of a reconstruction project for Louisiana Street. The City will look for other opportunities, but only move forward with a conversion to a roundabout where it makes sense. Because roundabouts are still new to the North Texas Area, staff is being very selective on where they should be constructed.
4. Are roundabouts more expensive to construct or maintain?
The answer depends on the location. Roundabouts are typically more expensive to construct than a traditional intersections. However, long term operation and maintenance costs are less than a traffic signal. The space requirement at the intersection can be larger with a roundabout than at a traditional intersection, but roundabouts often require less vehicle storage space on intersection approaches which can be a savings.
5. Anything else to add?
In short, we’re big advocates. While the initial cost is generally going to be a little more, the trade off in favor of safer design, character, and more pedestrian friendly neighborhoods is, in our opinion, a bargain.
Admittedly, it is counterintuitive to employ a strategy of less roads, especially in Texas where adding more to the concrete jungle is always the solution to our transportation woes, but the folks in Carmel have set the example:
“A system of narrower roads connected with roundabouts costs less, functions more safely and efficiently and has a positive effect on property values. I hope that Carmel’s example will continue to inspire other cities around the country,” said Mayor Brainard.
It would appear Mr. Daake and team are on the right track to keep McKinney moving!
Pictured: An arial view of a roundabout in Carmel, Ind. The photo appears in the book, CARMEL: ’round about right by Mayor James Brainard.